Audio enthusiasts with limited financial resources face serious obstacles in their search for high quality music reproduction. Many audiophiles search the used market on the Internet in order to obtain equipment within their price range. While this can be a viable solution, there is another alternative open to cash-strapped audio enthusiasts. There is a group of independent-thinking music lovers who believe that high quality sound can be achieved for a reasonable price by carefully selecting electronic components from the offerings of professional audio companies. The majority of pro-audio components are used for sound reinforcement applications, and do not work well in the home audio environment. However, the electronics that are designed for use in the recording studio are viable candidates for crossing over into the high-end home audio arena.
- Size-48cm x 19cm x 4.5cm WDH Weight~2.3Kg
- Mains Voltage – 230V / 120V (mention when purchasing)
- Inputs – Stereo XLR analogue input, 1
- AES/EBU digital input, 1 RCA digital input, 1 Toslink digital input
- Outputs – Stereo XLR analogue outputs (domestic level, balanced and unbalanced),
- 1/4” headphone output,
- 1 AES/EBU digital output, 1 RCA digital output, 1 Toslink digital output Analogue output impedance~800 ohms
- Feature list:
- 24bit/96KHz DAC & ADC (ADC can be used to record vinyl to a computers digital input at high resolution)
- Re-clocking to reduce jitter
- Dithering to lower noise floor
- Converts between any of the digital connections (e.g. convert from optical Toslink to coaxial RCA)
- Inputs user selectable (allows multiple sources to be connected) Headphone output
- Price – New modified unit £285 / Modifications only £186 Inc. VAT (US
- customers are exempt VAT)
- Total cost of review model for US-£243GBP / ~$485USD
Commercial speakers from JBL have carved a niche out in the audiophile world. Recently, many audio enthusiasts have enthusiastically embraced the DAC1 digital to analog converter from Benchmark Media Systems, even though this piece is intended for use in recording studios. Aficionados of vintage electronics will proclaim the merits of the Yamaha NS-1000M speaker system, the Rogers LS3/5a studio monitor, or various models of Crown amplifiers. Over the past few years, frugal audio enthusiasts have touted several components from Behringer Audio as hidden audio gems. While this DAC is respectable in its stock form, a crafty technician can turn this lowly unit into a true high-end component with a set of well thought out modifications.
Audiosmile is a boutique audio manufacturer located in England. Simon Ashton is the founder of this enterprise, and has developed a small stable of exciting audio products. Simon has an extensive education in sound recording and engineering field, and has a unique perspective on what is necessary to properly set up an audio system.1 It seems only natural that the first product that Audiosmile would offer is an array of acoustic tuning panels. With that project completed, Simon turned his sights to developing a set of modifications for several of the Behringer components.
1 Simon has written several articles for Affordable Audio regarding the inner workings of a recording studio. I would encourage readers to download previous issues of A$$A. and take a look at the information that is presented in these articles.
Behringer SRC2496 mod reivew
The modification package that Simon has put together for the SRC2496 is a two-pronged attack that addresses the primary shortcomings of this unit. As many audiophiles have discovered, a properly implemented power supply is the heart and soul of a good audio component. Unfortunately, budget level components do not generally have high quality power supplies, so their performance is severely compromised. However, the power supply in the stock SRC is actually quite a decent linear supply with good regulation for the critical components. While the power supply is respectable for an inexpensive component, Simon added a LC filter circuit in order to smooth out the current flow from the power supply. The power supply modification for the Behringer does an excellent job at removing noise and spurious interference, resulting in a DAC that is capable of revealing the subtle shadings of a well-recorded disc.
Digital modification schemes routinely bypass the op-amps that are used in the final gain stage of CD players and digital to analog converters. Mediocre components will severely limit the sonic abilities of a digital component. Simon has chosen a simple, yet elegant solution to this problem. The entire final gain stage is discarded, and the signal coming off the DAC chip is passed through a new output stage. This circuit is extremely simple, and contains a resistor and capacitor combination, with a high quality transformer.2 The transformer is capable of performing all the functions of the discarded output stage, and Simon has relayed an excellent description of what occurs within the modified Behringer.
The main advantage of the transformers is that they do everything the complex active circuit does with just a single quality component. They replace the multiple cheap op-amps and numerous other components in the output stage by doing the following: Summing the differential output (i.e. balanced output) of the DAC chip. The idea of a differential DAC is quite clever because as you probably know, DAC chips make all sorts of noise while doing their job. Just like in a balanced cable system, when you flip the phase of the inverted output and sum them, the signal adds together but the noise cancels out. So this gives a cleaner signal.
They remove DC that is on the DAC output that would otherwise need a DC blocking capacitor in the signal path. They give the ability to control output level. I can offer -3dB, 0dB or +3dB. Changing the output level effects impedance, but all settings are within good specs.
The next thing they offer is the ability to output either a balanced or single ended signal. To switch between each, all you need to do is connect the negative phase of the XLR (pin 3) to ground (pin 1) and the output is forced in to single ended mode. This can be done in an XLR to RCA converter plug or cable.
The modification package that Audiosmile offers turns a utilitarian digital component into a high performance DAC. Audio enthusiasts who have real world budgets can now experience high-end digital reproduction for only $485.
A stock Behringer SRC2496 is not a physically imposing unit. The dimensions of this DAC are 19” wide, 5.5” deep, and 1.75” tall. A stock unit weighs approximately 4.5 pounds, while the modified unit will come in a bit heavier due to the parts added by Audiosmile. This DAC contains a wide array of features and options that are useful in the proaudio arena. The average audio enthusiast will not use many of these features, however they do not compromise the sonic presentation of this DAC. Quite frankly, this collection of lights, switches, and knobs are undeniably distracting. However, it easy to forgive the cluttered appearance of the Behringer unit once that first disc is cued up, and Simon’s modifications make their presence known. Heavy aluminum faceplates or sophisticated visual display panels add to the aesthetic appeal of a component, which can be an important consideration for many audiophiles. The frugal audio enthusiast is primarily concerned about the sonic qualities of a component, and in this regards the Audiosmile modified SRC2496 is truly an audio gem.
A Bolder Cable Company modified Squeezebox is used as the transport for the Audiosmile DAC. Even though the active gain stage of the SR2496 is removed, this DAC still has enough output to drive a pair of Monarchy SM70 PRO amplifiers. The amplifiers are running a pair of Audio Nirvana Super 12 full range drives in cabinets built by Lovecraft Designs. Audio Magic Illusions 4D interconnects, speaker cables, and digital cable connect the various components together. A Monarchy AC Regenerator and Audio Magic Extreme power cords finish out the system. This system configuration should be representative of the type of system that many audio enthusiasts will use this DAC in.
The modification package that Simon Ashton has developed for the Behringer DAC is quite astounding. The SRC2496 presents music in a neutral manner, and with a level of transparency that is not often encountered from a DAC that sells for well below a thousand dollars. “Heavenly Angel” [Third Generation; Epic EK38708] by Hiroshima is an excellent sample of fusion, and has many subtle nuances that often trip up budget level components. I carefully listened to the flutes and percussion instruments, and found their sound to be on par with the performance I can achieve with my reference digital to analog converter. The background vocals are presented in an evenhanded manner, and there are no obvious miss-steps with the Behringer DAC. Buried in this song is a Yokabue, which is a Japanese flute. The SR2496 is able to separate this delicate instrument from the rest of the music, and maintain its unique sound. This is no small feat, as most inexpensive digital to analog converters would be unable to recreate the fine detail of the flute within the framework of this up-tempo song.
Pop music recordings are often a source of frustration for the discriminating music listener. A large percentage of these discs are known to have a bright and harsh presentation. Audio enthusiasts often build systems that employ a digital front end that is artificially smooth and warm sounding in order to make these discs tolerable. “Pink Cashmere” [The Hits 1; Paisley Park 9 45431-2] by Prince is a song that I often play in order to get a handle on how a component will fare with a nicely executed commercial grade recording. The Audiosmile modified DAC passes this test with flying colors. Prince’s falsetto vocals are presented with an easy flow and grace that makes this song a real pleasure to listen to. The subtle vocal inflections of this song are clearly presented, and the DAC does not artificially smooth them over in order to give the illusion of an “analog-like” sound. The drums and cymbals have been pushed forward in the recoding mix, and do not have a natural presentation. The SRC2496 properly frames this phenomenon, and these instruments have a slightly artificial feel to them. I spent several satisfying listening sessions with this plucky D to A converter playing a wide array of my favorite pop music discs. This is a component that is at ease with all types of music.
Music with demanding bass information will often expose the limitations of budget level components. The compromises needed to bring an entry-level component to market can be quite severe, and in many cases the power supply is one of the areas that get short changed. “Cherry Baby” by UB40 [Labour of Love; A&M Records CD4980] has a demanding bass line that will trip up a component with a mediocre power supply. Bass response is tight and well controlled with the Audiosmile modified DAC in my system. The bass line to this song is lively with excellent definition. There are some limitations to the quantity and extension of bass in my system, but these are quite forgivable when the quality of bass reproduction is factored into the equation. Another important factor related to the upgraded power supply is the stability of the image during intense bass passages. When a power supply is pushed beyond its abilities, the soundstage will collapse and become smeared. Even during the strongest bass passages the image created by the SRC2496 remained solid sounding and stable. While I do not have a stock SRC2496 to make a direct comparison to, I will say that I have yet to hear any inexpensive DAC perform at the same level as the Audiosmile modified unit.
While the SRC2496 is capable of great sonic feats, I found a couple of instances when this unit failed to match the performance of my reference DAC. With a less than stellar recording, the Audiosmile unit has a tendency to present instruments and performers in a silhouette fashion. The same material played through the Audio Magic Kukama D to A converter still has a 3-dimensional feel to the recording. This event usually appears when commercial engineered pop and rock recordings are played. The Audio Magic unit has a 4-volt output stage, and is better suited to directly drive an amplifier. I suspect that there are instances when the Audiosmile DAC would benefit from being used in a system with an active pre-amplifier.
Simon sent along a set of OFC copper cables to use with his unit. With these cables installed, there is a significant shift in the tonal balance of this DAC. The midrange band is highlighted, and vocals in particular took on a romantic presentation. The mid bass fills out, and has a robust feel to it. These gains come at the expense of transparency and detail retrieval. Perspective owners of the Audiosmile DAC need to keep in mind that their cable choices can significantly shade the tonal balance of this unit. For $485, the Audiosmile modified SRC2496 is capable of recreating ninety percent of the sonic abilities of my $2500 reference DAC.
Conclusions about Modified Behringer SRC2496
For the frugal audio enthusiast, this unit should be on a short list for components to audition. 3 A high quality digital front end is a major component to a good sounding audio system, and this DAC is the real deal. Detail retrieval and transparency is unmatched by any other digital component that I have encountered at this price point. In the past, I have owned the TRL modified Sony SCD-595, which has a reputation of being an overachiever in the digital world. While I enjoyed the TRL unit, I would not hesitate to say I would choose the modified SRC2496 over it.4 Simon has done a fine job on this unit, and I suspect he will sell a bushel of these modification packages. Affordable Audio is all about trying to find those special audio components that offer highend sound at a price that the every day audio enthusiast can afford. The Audiosmile SRC2496 fits this bill quite nicely.
Equipment Used For Review:
- Squeezebox v3 modified by The Bolder Cable Company
- Monarchy SM 70 PRO amplifiers
- Audio Nirvana Super 12 drivers with Lovecraft Design cabinets
- Audio Magic Illusions 4D speaker wire Audio Magic Illusions 4D interconnects Audio Magic Illusions 4D digital cable Audio Magic Extreme power cords Monarchy Audio AC Regenerator
- 3 Affordable Audio readers who live in England are lucky dogs, and need to get their hands on one of these units to listen to. Audio enthusiasts located in North America will still be able to enjoy one of these D to A converters. Simon can obtain a domestic unit and configure it for use in USA and Canada.
- 4 One evening I installed a Phillips DVP-642 as a transport. This is my favorite low budget unit, which can still be had for a measly $59.
- A Bolder Cable Company digital cable was used, which sells for $85. This combo sounded great, and I would choose it over the modified Sony.
external link: Behringer website
Download: Behringer SRC2496 manual
from aﬀordableaudio, By John Hoffman